OP: 「History Maker」 by Dean Fujioka
「なんのピロシキ!! 涙のグランプリファイナル」 (Nan no Piroshiki!! Namida no Guranpuri Fainaru)
“Easy as Pirozhki!! The Grand Prix Final of Tears”
I expected Yuri!!! on Ice to be one of the better shows of the season, but my expectations were exceeded further than I thought possible. Without sounding too extreme, this was one of the best anime episodes of 2016. It’s an amazing thing, but makes my – and my fellow bloggers’ – choices even more difficult. How can a series of this quality and craft not be covered on a weekly basis? It wasn’t high on my personal list, but ignoring it after this stunning premiere would be the height of ignorance. There are other shows that I have more personal investment in, but this first episode of Yuri!!! on Ice is on a whole other level right now. Where do I even begin?
The magic with Yuri!!! on Ice is how much character and life it injects into what is a fairly pedestrian story. We have a Katsuki Yuuri (Toyonaga Toshiyuki), an up-and-coming figure skater from Japan who we meet under some unfortunate circumstances, as this marks the start of his losing streak that eventually sends him back to his hometown a year later. He encounters a Russian Yuri: Yuri Plisetsky (Uchiyama Kouki) – a hardheaded teen who confronts a sobbing Yuuri in the toilets only to challenge the one who shares his name and is soon to share the stage. And there’s also the star of the show, Victor Nikiforov (Suwabe Junichi), s renowned celebrity who appears to win every competition imaginable, and is the one who inspired Yuuri to pursue figure skating in the first place. With those major players introduced, the rest of the episode follows Yuuri as he returns to Japan feeling sorry for himself, only to be picked back up again and get the surprise of his life in the final minutes of the episode.
With that sort of set-up, this episode could have been anywhere between brilliant to bad, depending on how well produced and fully-realised it was. You don’t need to have the most original concept to deliver a truly great series, but every detail, thought, and ounce of effort put into the making, research, and directing of Yuri!!! on Ice proves that it’s one to watch out for. This is animation at its true capacity – this is what anime should be. It may not be a story that appeals to everyone, but what it does it does with true artistry, that it almost makes everything else look limp in comparison (apart from Hibike! Euphonium, of course). Every shot was purposefully framed, we got an understanding of the locations through the features spread across the mid and long shots, and the exposition was handled in a characterful manner that made catching up with the drama fun and zany rather than tired and forceful. Yuri!!! on Ice certainly has its own flair to it, and I was impressed with everything this episode offered us. The various art styles alone are enough to warrant praise, especially when all were nailed perfectly; whether it be the chibi moments, the dramatic lighting, the realistic choreography, or the over the top expressions.
A lot of this comes from the talented director behind the camera… although technically there is no camera – but it certainly feels like a documentary in the way it is storyboarded and animated, especially in the ice skating segments. Yamamoto Sayo is a creative force to be reckoned with, and is in my fair opinion one of the greatest anime directors of her generations. Her two previous full-length TV anime – Michiko to Hatchin and Lupin the Third: Mine Fujiko to Iu Onna – are vibrant, exciting titles that burst with style. Both get praise, but whether it be Michiko to Hatchin straying too far from what makes for a ‘mainstream’ anime, or her attempt on the Lupin franchise not going down well with all fans, she’s not without her blemishes.
Still, her resume is perhaps one of the most impressive I’ve come across: Death Note, Ergo Proxy, Evangelion: 2.0 You Can (Not) Advance, Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt, and Space Dandy are among the titles she has either storyboarded or directed individual episodes on, and even if you aren’t a fan of all of those series, it’s hard not to be impressed by what she has been a part of in the past. She’s also credited as the ‘Original Creator’ for Yuri!!! on Ice, which isn’t too surpassing given her dabbling into ice skating shorts in the past; she has passion for this project, and it shows in every frame. It feels like she and her team had some fun with this production, and that contagious energy is what I love seeing perhaps most of all. Not only that, but the experimental OP and social media inspired ED are genius ideas that are well executed, making them stand out from the waves of generic opening and ending themes. I especially love how the ED uses the Instagram captains, emojis, hashtags, and number of likes as ways to characterise the cast – even though many of them have yet to be formally introduced.
This episode has swept the internet with praise and awe, and I’m glad an anime of this quality is getting such attention. Sure, the fact that it doesn’t have any actual yuri is bound to piss of that demographic until the end of time, but I think what we’ve got here is better than what many fans had initially conjured in their heads when this was first announced. I’ve got a lot of love for this show already, and you can sure as hell bet I’ll be returning next week to talk about it once more. I didn’t even get to talk about the inclusion of male nipples in this post. Maybe next time…
ED: 「You Only Live Once」by YURI!!! on ICE feat. w.hatano